Nowhere to Call Home for the Holidays

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A few months ago, I wrote a post about children’s books that address the topic of immigration. Today I came across a wonderful opportunity for children to send holiday wishes of love and hope to refugee families living in detention centers in the United States. The following is a description of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) Hope for the Holidays project:

In 2014, the U.S. government returned to the inhumane practice of detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings in three family detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania. Consequently, many mothers and children will spend the holidays in detention, separated from the love of their families and the comfort of their traditions. Join LIRS in bringing hope and joy to children and mothers in immigration detention through sending Christmas cards and gifts. Write a message of hope to a family in detention and then mail your cards to LIRS. We will ensure that they are delivered to families in detention and to those children who arrive at our borders alone.

The holiday cards are needed by December 12th and instructions on where and how to send them are on the LIRS website. They particularly need cards with messages written in Spanish, and their website provides appropriate examples.

This project would pair nicely with the picture book Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat, which I described in a previous post. The mother in this story is living in a detention center while her husband and daughter anxiously wait for her to be released.

Because Donald Trump’s presidential campaign focused strongly on illegal immigration, many young children in the U.S. have become more aware of this issue. It is being discussed at home, in classrooms and on the playground. While we may feel that the issue is too complex for children to understand, we also need to recognize that they will likely be exposed to it whether we feel they are ready or not.

Like so many other issues in our world, I believe that it is important to teach children to approach the subject of immigration with compassion. We can help them understand the reasons why we secure our borders and require people to follow a specific path to citizenship, while also acknowledging the desperation and despair that leads refugees to flee their home countries. If we lived in a country where boys are recruited as child soldiers, where drug cartels terrorize the community, where there is no work, no food, and no hope, can we really say we would stay in that environment? Or would we flee to a new country despite the legality of that decision and the dangers that were in front of us? The goal is to help children see the complexities of the issue and respond with compassion because, in the end, those refugees living in the detention center could be any of us.

Wishing peace to all of you this holiday season…

 

PHOTO credit: Morgue File, chilombiano, http://mrg.bz/fafe41

 

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“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Sun is Also a Star

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine

new-wowWhat soon-to-be-published book am I excited about right now?

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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Available: November 1, 2016

From the author’s website:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Why I’m looking forward to reading it: I enjoyed Yoon’s first novel Everything, Everything, which is currently being made into a movie. I’m curious to see how she will give the star-crossed lovers trope new life by bringing in immigration issues. Plus, I just love a good YA romance, especially one with multicultural characters and told from multiple points of view. If you haven’t read Everything, Everything, check it out while you wait for The Sun is Also a Star.

 

Book to Screen: Anne of Green Gables

This past week I found out that two of my favorite books are being made into movies. Happy dance! One is a well-loved classic novel that already has a fantastic mini-series version. The other is a 2011 young adult novel that I will write a post about in a few days. Let’s get on to the classic: Anne of Green Gables.

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The first film version of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery was a black and white silent film made in 1919, eleven years after the book was published. Based on my research, it appears that the film was never released. Several other versions followed, including the popular 1985 miniseries Anne of Green Gables and the 1987 sequel Anne of Avonlea. This version was widely praised, and I believe the talented cast was a large part of the film’s success. Megan Follows was the perfect choice for plucky orphan Anne Shirley, and I feel sorry for anyone who has to play the part after her. She seemed to understand who Anne is: tough yet dreamy, romantic yet feminist, and sometimes difficult but desperately wanting to do better and be better.

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Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth were excellent as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the elderly siblings who are quite surprised when the orphanage sends Anne to them instead of a boy. The scenes between Marilla, Matthew and Anne provide many of the most poignant moments in the series, and I admit that I cried through many of them. Anne’s “bosom friendship” with her “kindred spirit” Diana Barry and her love/hate relationship with Gilbert Blythe were also depicted beautifully in this film. Gilbert became one of my serious book crushes…sigh.

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I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea (because when you watch one, you have to stay up all night watching the other), but talking about them is making me want to order the DVDs immediately. How do I not own these already?? When you love a book and its movie version this hard, it’s difficult to imagine the necessity for a reboot. And yet I’m looking forward to the Netflix version, an eight episode series titled Anne that is currently being filmed in Canada. It will air some time in 2017.

There are reasons to be both optimistic and concerned about the remake. One reassuring detail is that they have assembled a talented all-female team for the writing, producing and directing. The writer is Moira Walley-Beckett who worked on Breaking Bad. I can’t imagine a series more different from Anne of Green Gables than Breaking Bad, but I also know that great writers can do different genres well. I’m pretty sure Anne won’t be mixing up meth on P.E.I.

According to information released from the filmmakers, there will be new plot lines that address contemporary issues of bullying, prejudice and identity. Hmmm. This makes me anxious. There is plenty of action to include from the novel itself so it worries me that they feel the need to add new scenes in an attempt to modernize the story. I’m not a fan of messing with classics unless you’re going completely over the top, like adding zombies or sea serpents. When the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice concluded with kissing and invented dialogue, it really got my petticoats in a wad. You’re going to improve on Jane Austen’s dialogue?? You cheapen the moments between Darcy and Elizabeth just to make the ending sexier?!? I don’t think so, bub!

OK, calm down, Willard. Deep breaths. Think of Darcy in the BBC version…

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I will watch the Netflix version of Anne, and then I’ll retreat to the ’85 miniseries if they don’t get it right. It will be fun to see Carrots and Gil on screen again. They better not cut out the scene where she breaks the slate over his head.

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I think Anne would appreciate filmmakers who are willing to take a risk on a remake though, don’t you?

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” ~ Anne Shirley

 

Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class

This writer provides insight that made me think about my own experience with writing classes, conferences, and critique partners. It’s so important to find a critique partner and beta readers who can read your language (be it Austen or Blub).

The Incompetent Writer

Did you read the Buzzfeed piece that came out last month, about writing workshops and Pride and Prejudice, by Shannon Reed? “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop.”

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You should. It’s very funny.

Dear Jane,
I don’t usually read chick lit, but I didn’t hate reading this draft of your novel, which you’re calling Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the part where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle went on a road trip, which reminded me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (also about a road trip — check it out!).

I won’t lie. I like to think I’m not as sexist and priggish as this guy. Still, parts of Reed’s piece made me cringe in self-recognition.

I winced.

In a writing workshop, it’s easy (easy at least for me) to develop the exact tone (superior…

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Countdown to PiBoIdMo 2015

In three days PiBoIdMo 2015 begins! The challenge is to come up with thirty picture book concepts in thirty days. My hopes are high. My dreams are big. My time is little. I’m still revising the YA novel I “finished” writing this summer (will it ever be finished???), and I’m developing a MG novel. I also have one picture book draft that needs a whole lot of work. All my writing needs to happen between 9-10 pm because I’m also a full-time librarian with two small children at home. Still, who can say no to PiBoIdMo? I’m going for it.

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School Visits: How to Win the Hearts of Teachers and Students

A visiting writer or artist program can be the highlight of a school year. The students and staff are invigorated and inspired by the experience, and the organizers believe that the event was worth every penny. Based on that performance, the writer or artist sells more of their work, gains new fans, and is recommended to other schools.

Unfortunately, visiting writer and artist programs are not always so successful. As an elementary school librarian and former middle school language arts teacher, I have seen presentations that thrilled and others that flopped. Unlike teachers, many authors and artists work alone and have not developed their skills of addressing an audience, particularly one that is young and wiggly. Becoming a skilled presenter for a young audience is challenging and takes practice. The good news is that by knowing your audience, you can turn a mediocre school visit into a memorable one.

  1. Connect with them. Students are excited you are there, and they want to get to know you; however, longwinded, self-involved autobiographical presentations are not the way to introduce yourself. If you reveal information that shows you remember what it was like to be their age, students can better identify with you. Remember that teachers are also part of your audience, and they love it when you inspire students to achieve their potential. Studies have shown that hard work, determination and resilience are crucial factors in students’ success so let your audience know about the obstacles you overcame to get where you are today.
  1. Keep it moving. For students in the K-2 age group, you will need to change things up every 10-15 minutes, depending on the engagement level of your activity. That means activities without audience participation, such as talking while presenting a PowerPoint, should be limited to ten minutes or less. If you are including the audience in a game or a skit, you can stretch the time to 12-15 minutes. Even with older students, you shouldn’t go longer than 20 minutes without switching to a new activity. Most importantly, pay attention to the audience’s energy. If the teachers are yawning and the students seem more interested in each other than in you, it’s time to move on to the next part of the presentation.
  1. Get them involved. Audience participation is key to a successful school visit. An author and illustrator team who recently visited my school played a game that involved the students suggesting things for the artist to draw. We were given the drawing as a gift, and our PTA plans to frame it for the library. In one truly memorable performance several years ago, the authors asked the teachers to eat dried insects they’d brought back from their travels in the Amazon rainforest. (I may or may not have eaten a bug that day.) The more you involve the audience in the presentation, the more attentive they will be.
  1. Include a theme. If you’re not sure what theme you want to focus on, ask the librarian or teacher ahead of time if there is anything they would like you to address. They may suggest that you share your experience with collaboration, overcoming failure, or some other topic that is the focus at their school. The theme can be woven into your existing program, but it shouldn’t be too didactic. If they don’t suggest a theme, create one yourself. People may enjoy your program if it’s just pure fun, but they won’t be inspired unless there is a meaningful take-away message.
  1. Ramp up the energy. The younger the audience, the more enthusiasm needed. I have seen authors speak quietly to young children about their craft as the students not-so-quietly picked at each other, rolled on the carpet, and ignored the presenter. Save the quiet, earnest performances for adults. With the kids, bring on the energy and the big voice and don’t be afraid to move around the room. With small children, you cannot be afraid of looking foolish. They love it when you give the characters voices and tell the story dramatically. For middle and high school audiences, you may want to behave with more dignity and include those witty asides you’re so good at making, but still keep the energy high. Remember the teacher in Peanuts? Wah wah, wah wah, wah waah. That is what students hear if you talk to them in a monotone voice, and no one wants that.
  2. Reflect on your performance. Ask schools to fill out a survey after your performance and tell them to be completely honest so that you can improve your craft. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to receive constructive feedback that will help you improve your performances.

With budgets tight these days, schools want to be sure that they are getting the most out of every dollar they spend. If you are a visiting author or illustrator who leaves the kids cheering and adults singing your praises, you will not only sell more books, but you’ll find yourself with new fans and more engagements down the road.